Wednesday, February 28, 2018


Hi everyone! It’s near the end of February, thank goodness, and March is right around the corner. I have never been a “winter” person, and it seems like the older I get the less I like to see the approach of those cold, dreary winter months. We had our yearly ice storm—we get a lot of that here in Oklahoma—but it’s over!

Growing up, I don’t remember having “cabin fever”—I was always able to entertain myself with indoor activities—coloring, paper dolls, board games, reading, and yes, even writing. This winter I was asked to participate in a little writing exercise that was a lot of fun, and not my “norm” for my writing self.
The story was to be a western historical very short piece. Two sentences were given: The shot rang out. I heard her scream at the same time the bottle crashed to the floor.

These sentences had to be used in this exact form—without any modification. The only “change” that was useable was the fact that they could come anywhere in the story, as long as they came together as shown here. And the story must be 500 words long—no longer. Mine came in at 497—and let me tell you, that was not easy for me!
It’s been a long time since I was this excited over something different like this—just something fun to try. There will be 51 other participants as well, using these same two sentences. I’m so curious to see where this leads! The book will be sold, but none of us are anticipating getting rich from it—whatever royalties it garners will go into a scholarship fund for a young writer. For me, the rewards were huge.
Two men, waiting for something. One of them is in for a huge surprise. What about the other one? Will he make it out alive?

I had such fun with this! Here's a sneak peek at the first part of it—but remember, there'll be 51 other "takes" on these same sentences. I can hardly wait!

I Can Wait--Cheryl Pierson

“Let’s see…‘The shot rang out. I heard her scream at the same time the bottle crashed to the floor.’ That’s your story, right, fast gun?” Marshal Ferris smirked as he moved closer to the chair where his prisoner, Johnny Kilgore, was tied.

“Yeah,” Johnny muttered through split lips, blood streaming from the busted nose Ferris had given him. “It’s my story because that’s how it happened, pendejo.”
Ferris shot him a wary glance, unsure if he’d been insulted.

Johnny looked toward the narrow, barred window just in time to see a small hand disappear. Seeing things? Hoping for a miracle… He shook his head to clear it in the stifling air.

Ferris leaned down close, blocking Johnny’s view of the window. “You killed that woman, and you’re gonna admit it, you son of a bitch. We got all night. I can wait.” Ferris cracked his knuckles. Another vicious uppercut rocked Johnny’s head back. “You’re gonna write your confession.”

Who was the kid outside the window? Damn…why even think of that? I’ll be dead before midnight. There’s no help coming. No miracle for me…not this time… Wrong place, wrong time, just once too often…

He’d killed—but he’d never murdered a woman—especially not this one. Maria Lopez had been little more than a girl herself—and her scream from her upstairs room had been one of pure terror. By the time Johnny’d gotten to her, she was already dead. She wasn’t going to tell who did it, but Johnny had a fair idea from the dogged way Ferris kept after him about a confession.

Ferris crossed his arms. “It’s gonna be a long night. I got a powerful hunger. You just sit tight—I’ll be back after dinner. Just in time for you to confess…before you try to escape, and get killed doing it. Think about that while I’m gone,” he chortled as he walked away toward the outer office, banging the door shut like a death knell.

Oh, can't give away the ending, but wouldn't it be fun to do something different like this every so often, just to spice things up a little? I actually love writing prompts--I'd forgotten just how much until I was invited to participate in this collection. It'll be a while before this comes out, so I'll leave you with a link to my latest project, a boxed set called UNDER A WESTERN SKY which includes stories by Celia Yeary, Patti Sherry-Crews, Tracy Garrett, Kaye Spencer, Agnes Alexander and myself. It's a wonderful set and a great price--you can't go wrong!

Monday, February 26, 2018


For years, I have been fascinated by the pre-cut catalogue/kit homes that were available in the early twentieth century. My youngest daughter and I love vintage homes tours and have been in many of the types. These kits provided a wide range of houses for Americans. Around ten companies offered this advantage to would-be homeowners, but the most prominent were Sears Roebuck, Montgomery Wards, Aladdin, and Gordon Van Tyne.

The houses came from hundreds of plans. Once people selected their plan, they could buy the materials for their home. These were shipped by boxcar to the nearest railroad depot, and put on a side rail.

The average Sears Modern Home kit had approximately 25 tons of materials, with over 30,000 parts. These houses arrived as kits and came with a 75-page instruction book that told the homeowner how all those pieces and parts went together. Plumbing, electrical, and heating systems were available for an additional charge. In addition, porches, sun rooms, flower boxes, trellises, balconies, built-in cabinets, and a variety of door and sash patterns were available at an additional charge.

Sears promised that a “man of average abilities” could have the house assembled and ready for occupancy in 90 days. Some buyers chose to include friends and neighbors for a faster “barn raising” assembly. Others hired local carpenters to build the home. Construction of a house with pre-cut lumber reduced construction time by up to 40%, according to Sears.

Loading the home on a wagon to transfer
to the home-site.

Unlike modular homes, which are built in sections at a factory, in a kit house every separate piece of lumber was shipped already numbered and cut to fit its particular place in the house, thus eliminating the need for measuring and cutting, and likewise the waste of time and of materials. Thus, kit home manufacturers claimed to save the customer as much as 30 to 40 percent over traditional building methods.

One unusual mail-order home in the town in which we formerly lived was originally a 26-room home with large wrap-around porch. I don't know which company supplied the materials, but remember an article in the local paper discussing the home. Some of the bedrooms have been converted to bathrooms and closets, so the number of rooms has decreased. This beautiful home is now a  bed and breakfast. Years ago, I co-hosted a wedding shower in this lovely venue. 

All designs were standardized to maximize efficiency and reduce waste in materials and labor. Lumber and hardware were purchased in bulk. The factories had skilled employees and special machines to cut difficult pieces such as rafters and staircases. Lumber was pre-cut to length, guaranteed to fit, ready to nail, and labeled for easy assembly. Floor joists and bridging, sub-flooring, finished flooring, studs, rafters, sheathing, clapboards, shingles, stucco, plaster or drywall, columns, railings, doors and windows, hardware, nails, and paint for two exterior coats were included in the order.

Although the lumber and hardware were standardized, the designs were not and buyers were encouraged to personalize their order. Many models had two or three floor plans, while the exterior could be clapboards, shingles, stucco, or framed for brick. Walls, windows, and doors could be moved, added or eliminated. 

Some companies, including Sears, Montgomery Ward, Gordon-Van Tine, and Harris Brothers, offered cash discounts and generous mortgage terms. The most common was 5-15 year mortgage at 6% interest. By the time the home was built on a purchased lot and constructed by local carpenters and ready to move into, the home-owner had generally spent twice the cost of the home shown on the plans.

If you look at the plans, you will be able to recognize many homes in your community. Although over a hundred years old, they stand as a testament to the ingenuity of marketers that aided consumers. From small bungalow to luxurious home, they served a strong need in pre-World War II America.

Caroline Clemmons is an award-winning and Amazon bestselling author whose latest release is DANIEL McCLINTOCK, available at Amazon here. Sign up here for her newsletter to be notified of new releases, contests, and giveaways.

Thursday, February 22, 2018


Note: This post adds to the excellent article by E. Ayers earlier this month

Rail travel’s hypnotic rhythm, unique smells, and the sense of adventure stir the imagination, but a few basic facts offer enlightenment to the advent of personal travel by train. The first commercial rail cars were in England in—believe it or not—1630--and were drawn by horses over wooden rails to transport coal. By the mid 1700’s, iron rails had replaced wood. The first steam-powered land vehicle built by Frenchman Nichola Joseph Cugnot in 1769 laid the foundation for future locomotives. 

In the United States, Congress had invested heavily in the Eerie Canal and other waterways and resisted the idea of railroads. Public opinion eventually won. In 1827, the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad was the first railroad charter granted in the United States.

By 1852, its three hundred miles of track made this the longest railroad in the world. Once the transcontinental rail lines were completed in 1869, America was opened to settlers from all over the world. At first used only for transporting goods, passenger travel soon developed. 

A wide variety of facilities awaited passengers.  On some lines, the coaches were little more than rough structures that offered no comfort. Wooden benches with high backs—many times without a cushion of any kind—tortured passengers on a long journey. Still, it probably was no worse than riding in a wagon, and the train made the trip faster.


Other lines had coaches with padded bench seats, and still others with movable armchairs. Toilets sometimes were no more than a curtained off chamber pot offering minimal privacy. Summer forced passengers to choose between tolerating soot, smoke and dust with the windows open or sweltering with windows closed.  
In winter, passengers near the potbellied stove roasted while those at the other end of the car froze. Sometimes cars were reserved for women and their escorts and no males traveling without family were allowed in these coaches. Often as not, all travelers jumbled together.
Soon lines developed luxury cars designed to mimic fine hotel lobbies.  A major advance occurred when George M. Pullman began his line of luxury cars called Pullman Palace Cars.  His company developed hotel cars, sleeping cars, club cars, dining cars, and drawing room cars. According to George Deeming, Curator of the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania, these coaches required high fees similar to luxury hotels and were not available to the masses.

Pullman Royal Blue Car 1890
The first Pullman sleeping car appeared in 1859 at only forty feet long.  It was a reconstructed wooden day coach with metal wheels and a low, flat roof. A tall man was likely to bump his head.  It had ten upper and ten lower berths with mattresses and blankets, but no sheets. A one-person toilet stood at one end. Two small wood-burning stoves furnished heat and candles provided light.
In 1865, the first real Pullman sleeping car came into service.  It featured the first upper berth that folded out of sight for daytime, heated air from a hot air furnace under the floor, upper deck window ventilation, and roomier wash rooms. This car had black walnut interior with inlay or mirrors between windows. 

Early Pulman Car

In another ten years, the length had increased to seventy feet with even more elaborate wood interior and luxurious plush seats. Pullman coaches offered privacy with curtained off sleeping quarters or wood paneled compartments, and separate toilets for men and women.

Toilet flushed onto the tracks

At first trains stopped for passengers to debark and eat or even to spend the night in a hotel, as depicted in stories of the Harvey Girls and Harvey Hotels. Time always pressed diners and the traveler had no control over what food was available. Some dining places—due to necessity for speed—served the poorly prepared rations. 
A few sites deliberately cheated travelers with slovenly hygiene and half-cooked food. Others, such as Harvey, maintained high standards. At a dining stop, passengers rushed off the train for a hasty meal, then rushed back on board when the gong sounded. Travelers were forced to gulp and run if they were lucky enough to beat the crowd and get served. 

Pulman Dining Car

The advent of the dining car meant passengers could eat a proper meal on board, provided they had the cash. The first dining car, the Delmonico, came into service in 1868 on the Chicago & Alton line. Within ten years, they were on most lines. In 1878, a full meal cost seventy-five cents, at a time when a common laborer made less than that for an entire day’s work.

Pullman dining cars marketed luxury.  Fine tablecloths had PPCC woven into the cloth, for Pullman Palace Car Corporation.  Uniformed servers delivered well-prepared food to tables set with fine china, crystal and silver. Some cars had fresh flowers in built-in silver vases at each table.
When I traveled on the train as a child, I always had to have oatmeal for breakfast because it was the cheapest item on the menu. About half past eleven, someone would come through the cars with a basket of prepared sandwiches for those who didn't want to spend the money to eat in the dining car. I always think of these when I see sandwiches for sale at a convenience store.
Shipping also changed, with railroad cars providing speed and more protection for cargo than horse or mule drawn wagons. For a fee, rail cars could be temporarily or permanently customized for specific products.  In the Kansas, Texas & Pacific Railroad Museum in Dennison, Texas, books intended for railroad employees detail modifying and repair of shipping cars for a variety of purposes. Sadly, this museum was evicted from the KATY Building in which it had been housed and forced to move to an unsecured location.

The Great Western Railway constructed a bridge across Niagara Falls to link the United States and Canada in 1855.  It was not until 1882 that a bridge crossed the expanse of the Mississippi River at Memphis.  Prior to that date, trains departing West from Memphis were ferried, one or two cars at a time, across the Mississippi.
In 1869 the first refrigerated rail car appeared and soon allowed the transport of fresh produce and meats. One of the significant changes brought about by the railroad in the West was elimination of the great cattle drives to the Midwest or Northern markets.  Centralized rail shipping allowed ranchers to ship from locations near home.
After the Civil War, train robberies occurred, particularly West of the Mississippi River. Former soldiers carried out many of these, some returning home and others looking for an easy income. Usually no one was injured, but watches, wallets, money and jewelry were collected from the passengers. Sometimes robbers forced passengers to drink liquor or sing as added aggravation.
Towns grew and flourished along the railroad. Those communities bypassed by the line often withered and disappeared. This happened to my ancestors, who backed the wrong town. Competitions arose between communities to attract the railroad, often with bitter result. 
For those fortunate enough to live near a rail line, products never before seen became available. Railroads brought easier travel, dependable shipping, and availability of goods to change America forever.

If you are interested in more details about rail travel, consult your local library for their selections or ask for one of the following:
The American Railroad Passenger Car; John H. White, Jr. 1978, Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore MD 21218.
Hear The Wind Blow: A Pictorial Epic Of America In The Railroad Age; Lucius Beebe and Charles Clegg, Grossett & Dunlap.
The Overland Limited, Lucius Beebe, Howell-North Books, Berkley CA. [This has a large section on Pullman cars.]
The Pacific Tourist: Adams & Bishop’s Illustrated Guide of Travel, The Atlantic To The Pacific; Frederick E. Shearer, Editor; Adams & Bishop, 1881.
Railroads Across America; Mike Del Vecchio, 1998, Lowe & Hold, Ann Arbor MI
The Railroad Passenger Car; August Mencken, Johns Hopkins Press. [This includes personal accounts by passengers over 150 years.}

Visit Caroline Clemmons at her website at For release information, excerpts, recipes, writing tips, and her contest, sign up for her newsletter here. Visit her blog at Her latest release, DANIEL McCLINTOCK, is available at Amazon  

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

New Book Coming & Navajo Myth

I am so happy! I just sent Tempting Adam off to my editor. Cover art is also being designed by Kim Killion. I hope to publish this 7th book in my Romancing the Guardians series within the next two weeks. Yay! Then I’ll hurry on with the finale in book 8, tentatively titled The Great Joining.

As some of you know, this continuing series centers around seven characters who possess psychic powers and a set of secret scroll handed down through time from their Tuatha de Danaan ancestors. The de Danaan were a legendary race of demi-gods according to Irish mythology. Reading about them gave me the idea for the Guardians saga.
Bobby C. Hawkins;

However, the Navajo people, their homeland and mythology also became increasingly important as this series progressed. I’ve talked about Canyon de Chelly, heart of the Navajo Nation before. It’s a haven for the Guardians that will come under attack by their enemies in book 8. Today I’d like to give you a quick peek at Navajo beliefs and one character who appears in many of their myths: naughty Coyote.

The Navajo creation myth (Dineʼ Bahane') describes the primeval rise of the Navajo people and forms the basis for their traditional way of life. The story begins with the Nilch'i Diyin (Holy Wind) being created, the mists of lights arising through darkness to animate and bring purpose to the four Diyin Dineʼé (Holy People), supernatural and sacred beings in three different lower worlds. All these things happened before the Earth was created and humans only existed in spiritual form.

According to the myth, the Fourth World produced the first physical humans, who in turn, gave birth to the Hero Twins. The twins had many adventures helping to rid the world of various monsters. Multiple batches of modern humans were created a number of times in the Fourth World and the Diyin Dineʼé gave them ceremonies which are still practiced today.

This is a simplification of the actual creation myth. You can read it in detail here:

Coyote howling, wikipedia public domain

Now meet Coyote (mąʼii in Navajo). Although he is a trouble-maker, he is one of the most important and revered characters in Navajo mythology. Coyote's ceremonial name is Áłtsé hashké which means "first scolder". In Navajo tradition, Coyote appears in creation myths, teaching stories and healing ceremonies.

One story caught my eye, not only because it teaches a good lesson but because in it, Coyote tangles with a horn toad. Also known as horned frogs (they're actually lizards) they are the mascot for Texas Christian University. Located here in Fort Worth, TCU is my daughter’s alma mater, and hubby and I are huge fans when football season rolls around.

Okay, here is part of the tale. I don’t dare share the whole piece for fear of copyright infringement. But you can read the rest & more coyote stories here:
Horned frog (lizard) wikipedia public domain

 Coyote and the Horned Toad

By Harrison Lapahie Jr.
Horned Toad was very busy in her cornfield, where the corn was just ripening. Coyote came to her and said, "Please give me some of your delicious corn." "No," said Horned Toad. Coyote asked her four times; then she picked some corn for him.

"Corn is very hard to raise," Horned Toad told him. "We have to hoe the weeds away from it and pick off the bugs and worms that want to eat it. We even have to water it during dry weather. I can't afford to give all my corn away."

Coyote kept begging. Horned Toad said he couldn't have any more.

Then Coyote ran out into the field and-pulled off a big ear of corn, stripped the husks away and began eating the kernels. Horned Toad grabbed one end of the ear, and, when he gulped it down. Coyote also gulped Horned Toad down inside him.

Since she wasn't there to scold him, he ate all the corn he could hold. Then he lay down in the shade. He felt very lazy, but when he heard birds flying down to eat the corn, he raised his head and shouted at them. "Go away! Don't bother my corn," he shouted "Don't you know it takes work to raise corn? I have to hoe it and water it, and all that."

Down inside him, Horned Toad made some sort of noise. Horned Toad was very angry with Coyote and wanted to do something to get even with him. As she lay inside Coyote's stomach, she called, "Hey, Cousin!" Coyote jumped up and looked around to see who was calling. He saw nobody, and he lay down again. The second time he heard someone calling, he jumped up again and ran around the edge of the cornfield, looking for the person whose voice he had heard.

This happened four times. The fourth time that Horned Toad called, Coyote realized where the sound was coming from and he looked down at his stomach and asked, "Is that you making noises inside me?" "Yes," replied Horned Toad. "I'm going to take a little walk down here and see what I can find."

Soon Coyote began to feel strange, and he told Horned Toad to lie down and be still. Instead, Horned Toad continued to walk around, and she tugged at different parts of Coyote's insides.

Lyn Horner is a multi-published, award-winning author of western historical romance and romantic suspense novels, all spiced with paranormal elements. She is a former fashion illustrator and art instructor who resides in Fort Worth, Texas – “Where the West Begins” - with her husband and a gaggle of very spoiled cats. As well as crafting passionate love stories, Lyn enjoys reading, gardening, visiting with family and friends, and cuddling her furry, four-legged children.

Amazon Author Page:
Newsletter:  Lyn’s Romance Gazette
Website:  Lyn Horner’s Corner 

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Tom Dooley: Myth, Legend, or Truth by Sarah J. McNeal

Tom Dula, Confederate Soldier
One of the things I enjoy doing in my historical research is to discover if certain folktales and folk songs have any validity. Surprising to me is the number of these sometimes outlandish tales and songs that have turned out to have a basis in reality. A while back I wrote articles about Johnny Appleseed and Paul Bunyan, legendary characters in American folktales. I found both of them to have been based on truth. Johnny Appleseed, like the Disney character, did indeed, walk across the country in bare feet, raggedy clothes, wearing a cooking pot as a hat as he planted apple trees in communities along the way. Paul Bunyan was a big lumberjack who did heroic things. There was no Babe the Blue Ox, however.
Some of you may remember the song “Hang Down Your Head Tom Dooley” by the Kingston Trio in 1958. The next part of the verse is “Poor boy you’re bound to die.” So, what do you think—was there a real Tom Dooley, or was he just a fictitious character in a folksong? Well, hand on to your hats because I have discovered the truth behind the song.
The song, as it turns out, is based on an 1866 murder of a woman named Laura Foster which took place in Wilkes County, North Carolina. Yep. Right here in my state right after the end of the American Civil War. It is alleged that a man named Tom Dula murdered Laura Foster. By the way, although his last name, Dula, was spelled with an “a” on the end, in Appalachian speech it is pronounced like a “y”—sort of like the Grande Old Opry.  
Before Tom Dula went off to fight in the American Civil War for North Carolina, he had been Anne Foster Melton’s lover since the time he was twelve. Ann was Laura’s sister. Laura had married James Melton was Tom was serving in the Confederate army, but even so, as soon as he returned after the war, he and Ann picked up where they left off.
Tom must have been quite the romantic or maybe just a smooth operator because he was also the lover of Laura Foster and their cousin, Pauline Foster. He should have known being the lover of three close relatives was going to lead to trouble…and so it did. It was Pauline Foster’s comments about Tom and Ann that led to the discovery of Laura’s body, which was unrecognizable from all the stab wounds, and accusations that both Tom and Ann were involved in the murder. Laura was pregnant at the time of her death and speculation was that Tom was the father. Laura had been stabbed several times with a large knife. The horrendous way in which Laura was murdered added to the notoriety of the murder along with the fact that the former governor of North Carolina, Zebulon Vance, acted as Dula’s defense attorney. The news of the murder had even been reported in the “New York Times.”

Ann was acquitted in a separate trial based on the word of Tom Dula that she had nothing to do with the murder.
In the song, written by a local poet, Thomas C. Land, there is mention of a man named Grayson who, according to the song, was a romantic rival of Tom Dula or a vengeful sheriff who captured Dula and presided over the hanging, but that was not factual. Col. James Grayson was a Tennessee politician who hired Tom on his farm when Tom fled from North Carolina while under suspicion and used a false name. Grayson helped in the capture of Tom Dula and was involved in returning him to North Carolina, but played no other role in the case.

Tom, who never confessed to the murder, made a puzzling statement at the gallows just before he was hanged. He declared he had not murdered Laura Foster, but still deserved punishment. His statement led to speculation that Ann Foster Melton, who had once expressed jealousy of Tom’s supposed plans to marry her sister, Laura, had been the murderer. A few years after the murder, Ann died in a carting accident; another version is that she went insane. Maybe Karmic justice had finally been served. I, on the other hand, cannot help but wonder why no one suspected Pauline Foster. Since she was the eager beaver who led authorities to the body of Laura, implicated Tom and Ann, and, oh yeah, was also a lover of Tom Dula’s. Did anyone else wonder about that? Well, actually the authorities did suspect her. Pauline finally confessed that she and Tom murdered Laura and was given immunity because she told them everything they needed to know to apprehend Tom Dula. 
The whole sad situation was immortalized in the folk song, “Hang Down Your Head Tom Dooley,” sung by the Kingston Trio back in 1958.  Here is the YouTube video of the Kingston Trio singing this famous folk song:


 Suspicions abound in my new release from Fire Star Press, IT’S ONLY MAKE BELIEVE.

June believed Kit loved her…until she married him

Beautiful June Wingate’s perfect marriage is in shambles—and she hasn’t even left the wedding reception! When she overhears two gossips discussing the real reason Kit Wilding married her, June believes there must be some truth to it—after all, things have happened just the way they said. Is her marriage only make believe? Trust is hard for June to accept, and now, her faith in her husband has been broken—along with her fragile heart.

Kit Wilding has loved June since the moment he laid eyes on her—a vision in pink that he couldn’t get out of his mind. Now that he’s married her, he can’t understand the changes that have suddenly turned her secretive and distant. How can he make things right between them when he doesn’t know what he’s up against?

But the tables are turned when June’s father, a pillar of the community, is accused of a crime that brings shame on the Wingate family—along with prison time. Kit Wilding’s not the kind of man to give up easily, but with his budding political career at stake, will he be able to hold his marriage together? Or will he be forced to admit IT’S ONLY MAKE BELIEVE…

A loud slap echoed through the house. June’s hand stung as she placed it back in the pocket of her dressing gown, part of her vast trousseau paid for by her parents.
Kit stepped back and rubbed his reddened cheek with his left hand while Snort, Kit’s dog, barked. June couldn’t help but notice the flash of his golden wedding band in the light of the dressing room. Her heart clenched at the sight of it. They’d been married only a few hours and now this…
“Hush that barking, Snort.” The dog quieted, but kept a sharp eye on June just in case. Kit glanced from the dog to June. “What the hell was that for, June? Did I do something wrong by trying to kiss my wife?”
“You bet you did. I thought you loved me and now…” She wasn’t quite sure how to say it to him now that she knew the truth. Honestly, she could barely believe what she had overheard at their wedding reception. How could she explain to him what she heard and express the doubts she had about his love because of it? Well, best to find a way because it seemed quite evident to her that he wasn’t about to leave her be until she did.
“You’d best tell me what this is all about, June, because I’m beginning to have doubts about your sanity and beginning to wonder about my own.” He cocked his head and narrowed his blue eyes at her.  If this is one of your cockamamie jokes, it isn’t funny—and please don’t tell me you married me just to spite your parents. I’m fairly certain your mother doesn’t think I’m good enough for you. She’s only spoken to me about four times in all the years I’ve known you. It’s a little late for second thoughts, June.” Snort began to pace between June and Kit as if to decide whose side he should take.
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Sarah J. McNeal is a multi-published author who writes diverse stories filled with heart. She is a retired ER and Critical Care nurse who lives in North Carolina with her four-legged children, Lily, the Golden Retriever and Liberty, the cat. Besides her devotion to writing, she also has a great love of music and plays several instruments including violin, bagpipes, guitar and harmonica. Her books and short stories may be found at Prairie Rose Publications and its imprints Painted Pony Books, and Fire Star Press and Sundown Press. She welcomes you to her website and social media:

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

“Ma” Ferguson and the Texas Rangers

Most of us from Texas have read about the origination of the Texas Rangers and the rough years they had with lack of state funding and low pay. But, it wasn’t until I was researching for my latest time travel, Birdie’s Nest, that I learned about the political problems the Rangers faced.

At the beginning of the 20th century, lawyers became a major threat to the Rangers. They challenged the legality of Ranger arrests by quoting the 1874 law that allowed only supervisors to make arrests of which there were only four in the state. Law on the Frontier faded and the Frontier Battalion ceased to exist when a new law went to affect. The new Ranger Force dropped to four companies of 20 men each.

In 1905, the Rangers still had their Wild West era reputation, but they were gradually evolving into detectives and solved cases with modern crime fighting techniques. They still dealt with trouble along the border and after Spindle Top, kept peace in oil Boom Towns.

In 1927 Miriam “Ma” Ferguson, Democratic candidate, was elected the first woman Governor of Texas. Her husband, James Ferguson, served as Governor from 1915 to 1917 but during his second term he was impeached, convicted and removed from office to never hold office in Texas again.

His wife decided to run in his place promising to follow the advise of her husband. “A common campaign slogan was, ‘Me for Ma, and I Ain’t Got a Durned Thing Against Pa.’” During her first term, Ma averaged over 100 pardons a month. There were accusations of bribes and kickbacks, but attempts to impeach failed.

“Ma’s” second term was less controversial but rumors abounded that state highway contracts went to those companies that advertised in the Fergusons’ newspaper. A House committee found no wrongdoing. Ma was instrumental in establishing the University of Houston as a four-year institution. Though both she and her husband were teetotalers; she aligned herself with the “wets” in the war on prohibition. She took a firm stand against the Ku Klux Klan and pushed for sales tax and corporate income tax.

During her two terms, she granted almost four thousand pardons, many were those convicted of violating prohibition laws. Rumors circulated that pardons were available in exchange for cash payments to the governor’s husband. In 1936 the Texas Board of Paroles was invented to take over the power.

When “Ma” was re-elected, in protest over political corruption, 40 Rangers quit the force; the remaining Rangers were fired. Political appointments replaced them. In 1934, after an investigation of corruption, a panel recommended the formation of the Texas Department of Public Safety to be headed by an Independent Public Safety Commission. The newly elected Governor Allred revoked the commission of all Rangers appointed by the Ferguson administration.

In 1935, the Department of Public Safety begins operation. Tom Hickman is commissioned Senior Ranger. He later serves as a member of the Public Safety Commission.

Former Rangers Frank Hammer and Manny Gault are commissioned to end the crime spree of outlaws Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker.

Pictured is the Posse of Six, the officers who ended the life of the two outlaws. Manny Gault is standing on the right and Frank Hamer is kneeling on the left. The duo, who had killed 14 law-enforcement officers, were shown no mercy when ambushed by the six officers. 

In 1939, despite the neutrality of the US, Captain Frank Hammer and 49 retired Rangers offered their services to the King of England to protect their shores against Nazi invasion. The King thanked them for their offer. The US State Department was not amused.

During WWII, US Army Intelligence Division Officers train with the Texas Rangers in Austin at the DPS Headquarters.


Texas Ranger History: Timeline - Order Out of Chaos (See The Official Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum in Waco, Texas Website.) 

Happy Reading and Writing, folks...oh and let's not forget researching our next project.


Monday, February 12, 2018

El Tiradito-- the Wishing Shrine

by Rain Trueax

With Valentine's Day approaching, it seems a time to look at a story of love gone wrong and wishes from those who hope for it to go right.

Tucson, Arizona is a land of many cultures drawn here by the river valley and its ability to nurture life. To me, having been here off and on since 1965, both to vacation and live, it is a land of mysticism, violence, history and mystery. One of its mysteries is that of el Tiradito. I only learned of it five or so years ago, even with all the time I'd spent in the area. The first time I went looking for it, I didn't have an address and thought another shrine (the region is full of them) was it. It was not. 

Finally, I got the right spot, took photos, absorbed its ambiance, and was inspired to put it into an historical romance. Years later, it appeared again in my paranormal contemporaries based in its neighborhood, Barrio Viejo. The old adobe community, many of the dwellings being lovingly restored, seemed a logical place to have a family of natural-born witches involved with protecting the street from evil. 

El Tiradito's mythology could make a book all on its own-- but not with the happy ending romances require. It has many versions of its story, secrets protected by the mists of time, as to its meaning and why it is there.

The neighborhood, Barrio Viejo has its own secrets and its history goes back many hundreds of years. It is the end of El Camino Real also called the Royal Road to Mexico City. It served as a road for the first Spaniards who entered America. Father Kino, who founded many missions in the area came down the road in the 1690s. 

For any who might be visiting Tucson, el Tiradito, the Wishing Shrine , is on Main Avenue between Cushing and Simpson Streets. It is south of downtown Tucson. When you see it, it looks like the remains of an older building with adobe walls, a simple shrine at its center. The reason for its existence may begin in the 1870s when its story was first told-- or was it? 

El Tiradito is a story of the West, of love, tragedy, and of a curse or is that a blessing? There are, of course, many such stories, what made this one special enough that people still visit this place and hope for a miracle? 

Not all who come may know its story. There are, after all, at least twenty versions of it-- all with a common thread-- a love gone wrong. Here is one version, which might well be the true one, of course.

It was in the 1870s, and Juan Oliveras was eighteen, a shepherd, who frequented Tucson, while he lived north of town with his young bride and his father-in-law, on the older man's ranch. Juan fell in love with his mother-in-law, who must have been a beautiful woman to inspire such a risky affair. Their adultery was possible because she lived in her husband's large main home in Barrio Viejo. 

It might've gone on for some time; but one particular day, Juan chose to visit her at the same time his father-in-law also came to town. The older man discovered the two making love in his own bed. Not surprisingly, there were angry words and a fight. Juan broke away, running from the house. His father-in-law followed with an axe. Yelling for help, to no avail, the older man hacked at him until Juan died in a pool of his own blood.

The murderer, believing he would be arrested by the Tucson marshals and hanged for the crime, saddled his best horse and rode south sixty miles to Sonora, Mexico.  

One story, as to the father-in-law's end, is that he didn't stay there. He wanted his sheep and rode back to get them. Near Tubac, he was attacked by Apaches, who scalped, stabbed and shot him repeatedly, tying his body to a cactus (yes, the Old West could be brutal and I am leaving out the most gruesome details). His dead body was found by the south bound stage coach and carried to Nogales, Sonora where it was buried.

Juan's widow was despondent after this horrible tragedy. There are several stories as to how she died but they all claim hanging. One such version is that
even though she was pregnant, she couldn't bear to continue living after Juan's and her mother's betrayal and her father's murderous deed. Without hope, she untied the bucket to ranch's well, tied the rope around her neck and threw herself down the deep well. When neighbors came to check on her they found her body and buried it right there, under a large mesquite, where it remains-- no shrine that I know of.

Some say Juan's body was left to rot on the dirt road. The Catholic Church refused him burial in hallowed ground, given the nature of his sin. One story says he was buried on the spot where he had been murdered. It has led to the name for the site. El Tiradito means castaway or little throwaway. Of course, there is another more romantic story that his mother-in-law buried him under her porch and built a wall around the grave-- the wall that still surrounds the shrine (unlikely given later events).

Now why should such a grave inspire becoming a shrine where even 140 years later people visit with prayers? One story lays it to the barrio women who
romanticized the love affair. They visited the grave to light candles and ask God to forgive Oliveras, the handsome (of course, he must have been) young man.

It soon evolved into a place where others could go to make a wish, writing their request on a small piece of paper and putting in the wall. Today it is claimed that if a candle is lit and the flame lasts the night, the wish will be granted-- possibly by Juan's ghost or was it the weeping mother-in-law's ghost, who some claim to hear when they visit. I saw no stories as to her end, which is unusual in that usually adulteresses must pay the ultimate price. Maybe she did-- or maybe she found another handsome young man.

El Tiradito is the only shrine dedicated to a sinner (that is known). It is now on the registry of historic places and contributed to preventing the freeway from wiping out the barrio more completely than downtown Tucson's expansion was already attempting. 

I have liked my time there, whenever I've visited. I can't say I felt any vibes either way. It feels peaceful and has a quiet beauty. I certainly didn't cast a wish, who knows how that would have worked out.

I used the legend when I wrote Arizona Sunset set in the 1880s. In this snippet, Abigail and Priscilla, longtime friends, are stopping at the shrine on their way down to picnic on the Santa Cruz River.

“So what are you going to ask for?” Abigail asked.  

"If I told you, would it come true?" Cilla quieted her voice as they neared the shrine. Lit candles, rosaries, crucifixes and bits of cloth were fastened to the adobe enclosure. If a candle continued burning through the night, it was believed it was a sign the wish would come true.

"My dear friend, this isn’t like blowing out a birthday candle. Besides, you can't believe in this sort of thing?" Abigail hushed her own voice at least partly because an old woman, a shawl almost covering her white hair, was kneeling in front of the small structure and gave her a gimlet eyed look.  

"And if I do?" Priscilla pulled a candle from her shawl. She knelt and lit it, closing her eyes.

Abigail looked at the shrine wondering if it did have some kind of magical powers. If so, from where might the enchantment come? A catastrophic result on love could fix someone else’s problems. She resisted a sarcastic laugh. For what would she wish if she believed in such? Nothing could be wished into existence. She had prayed when her mother grew sick and what good had it done. 

Wishing for freedom, for adventure, for forbidden fruits, none of that would bring her what she wanted—if she even knew what that might be. Would a wish bring the dark gunman into her life? She remembered how he had looked, what she had felt in that moment when their gazes seemed to lock. He had been a handsome man even under the beard. Would she want to conjure a reckless love like that into her reality? No, that was not for her. Wishes were for children or naive adults, not practical women. 

When Priscilla rose, she met Abigail’s skeptical expression with a benign expression of her own. “What can it hurt?” 

Abigail made a dramatic shudder. “Perhaps wishes are dangerous.” 

Priscilla laughed. “I will risk it.”

“What we wish for sometimes has another thing connected. Something we may not have considered.” “Maybe I would want the other thing too.” Priscilla laughed even though she received another stern look from the old lady. 

Arizona Sunset
Tucson Moon (where this business of making wishes is a major issue)

Both books are also available at most other sites and can be found through Arizona Sunset-- 
Tucson Moon--